Film-Related & Film Reviews 2006

León Has A Captain

Source: Diario de León

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© 20th Century Fox/Estudios Picasso/Oirgen ….
Thanks to Viggo Mortensen's repeatedly expressed hopes to hold a screening in the city, León will be the only city in Spain, aside from Madrid, to host the world premiere of Alatriste. The actor, along with Elena Anaya, Ariadna Gil and Agustín Díaz Yanes will be at the Emperor Theatre next Friday.

It was worth the wait. Events have unfolded at a dizzying pace since that day on July 17, 2005 when Agustín Díaz Yanes called "cut' for the last time in Uclés, on the set of Alatriste, the third film in his short but distinguished career as director and screenwriter.

From 5 continents around the world, movie buffs and, in particular, avid fans of the hottest actor today, Viggo Mortensen, demanded news, photographs, interviews, opinions and asked a never ending stream of questions that dispelled their doubts about how he would choose to portray the controversial and symbolic character of Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, as penned by Arturo Pérez Reverte.

And so the adventure began.

Newspaper pages, online blogs and magazines were regularly filled with contradicting information on different aspects of the movie, from the costumes and the theme music, to the actors, the actresses and the screening date. The character and the movie became the most sought-after stars in the country.

Nevertheless, the date for the premiere in León remained unknown.

Viggo Mortensen had promised that Alatriste would be screened first in León, and, ever the gentleman, he kept his word.

Agustín Díaz Yanes himself reinforced Viggo's promise with his statement that rapidly made its way around the world: 'Where Viggo goes, I go.'

So here they will be. This coming Friday, Sept. 1st, the actors and lead actresses, Ariadna Gil and Elena Anaya, will be at the Emperor Theatre to screen what is already being considered the Spanish film of the decade: Alatriste.

Welcome to León!

Diego Alatriste, 'el bravo,' who wished he had been born in Curueño.

On September 1st, León has a very special date: the world premiere of Alatriste. The movie directed by Agustín Díaz Yanes can count on the presence of the director, the actor and two of the other lead actors.

The North American actor, who has worked so hard to ensure that León hosts the event, will from now on be the definitive image of Diego Alatriste y Tenorio.

The iconic Emperor Theatre, a symbol of the decadence of an entire bygone era, has seen more than 60 years of theatrical and cinematic history and is due to close, thus, in a strange way, it can almost be said to share a commonality with the fall of the Spanish Empire in the 17th century. A century whose achievements are marvellously reflected not only in the paintings of Velásquez, but also in the work of great writers like Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Góngora and Cervantes. The reflection of a Spain that was then beginning to crack under the greed, ambition and indolence of its abominable government, when the court of Felipe IV was dominated by corrupt actors like Conde Duque de Olivares, who was backed by the Holy Inquisition. This is when Alatriste, a retired soldier from the old Flanders Tercio army, and the Italian mercenary Gualterio Malatesta, are hired to assassinate 2 mysterious men who are wandering around the streets of Madrid. This job will turn them into the worst of enemies.

The work of a great director

In Alatriste, Agustín Díaz Yanes, Tano, as he is known to his friends, creates a genuine character study onscreen while relying on his magnificent script, and approaches his third movie as a script writer and director with a radically different approach than he has taken with his previous work: No One Will Speak Of Us When We Are Dead, his debut in 1995, a dark thriller that gave rise to the hope that a great director had been born in Spanish cinema. And so it turned out to be. The movie won 25 awards, including the Jury Award at Saint Sebastian's Film Festival. But there was a long waiting period before the premiere of his next movie, No Word From God, a complex dark comedy with a star cast made up of Penélope Cruz, Victoria Abril, Fanny Ardant and Gael García Bernal. And again, there was another long break in between before he was asked to direct what is already possibly the movie of the decade, Captain Alatriste.

With a 24,000,000 Euro budget - the most expensive in the history of Spanish film - and a star cast led by Viggo Mortensen, Yanes' film is a historical fresco that faithfully reflects the heart of Pérez-Reverte's novels and perfectly depicts an entire era that will be remembered in the annals of history for its inept governors.

Another trump card for the film is that it could rely upon the most advanced technical and artistic equipment today, and is supported by a powerful soundtrack created by Roque Baños, which is exquisitely paired with powerful onscreen images to create an atmosphere of despondency where the fall of the Tercios of Flanders, those feared and yet sadly defeated elite soldiers, is underscored by a musical theme that moves us with its desolate lyricism. We have only to hear it to be transported to the searing plains of Rocroi, covered in dust, bullets and blood.

'It's very hard to make this kind of movie in Spain,' Agustín said last Wednesday. 'This great personal and cinematographic adventure was like taking a leap of faith off a cliff.'

A cast of smaller stars brings consistency and quality to the movie: Eduard Fernaández, Elena Anaya, Ariadna Gil, Blanca Portillo, Javier Cámara, Juan Echanove, Enrico Lo Verso, Eduardo Noriega, Antonio Dechent y Unax Ugalde, along with Viggo Mortensen, who got the role after reading Díaz Yanes' script, given to him by their mutual friend Ray Loriga with whom the actor had filmed the Spanish movie, My Brother's Gun.

For Viggo the movie 'is not only a good story about adventures and misadventures, it's also a portrait of a crucial era in the history of Spain, Europe and the rest of the world.' Spectacular battle scenes with 10,000 extras shot on a slew of different locations give you an idea of the ambition behind Díaz Yanes' latest project and why it is predicted to be a smash hit at the box office.

And León will be the lucky city - the only city on Earth - that, at 9:00 pm on September 1st, will host the four most important people in the movie at the ancient, emblematic and noble Emperor Theatre. All because Viggo Mortensen, Lord of his friends, has once again kept his promise that León will be not only the hometown of Alatriste, but also the site for the movie's first world screening.

No preguntarme nada. He visto que las cosas
cuando buscan su curso encuentran su vacío.
Hay un dolor de huecos por el aire sin gente
y en mis ojos criaturas vestidas ¡sin desnudo!

Federico Garcia Lorca, Poet in New York

The last time we saw each other was March 3rd in the cafeteria of León's large Auditorium where Viggo Mortensen had come to attend the wonderful recital that North American soprano Barbara Bonney performed for many opera fans in this city. It was a somewhat chilly day, and the cafeteria was especially busy. During the intermission, as is my custom, I went downstairs to get some coffee and to chat with some friends. There were only half a dozen tables, which didn't leave me many options for seating, so I hung out by the bar and talked with a local, who was also a huge Bonney fan, about the excellence of one of the most beautiful operatic voices in the world.

The crowd of people was considerable and I could barely move from the spot I had chosen. Suddenly, a friend comes over and comments, 'That guy who's sitting at the table in the back - isn't he Viggo?' I look but can't see anything. The heads bobbing around me block my view. With considerable difficulty, I navigate around chairs, legs and ladies' purses. Beside the large windows at the back of the room, slightly distanced from the noise, I see sitting before a cup of coffee a young blonde guy, his hair messier than usual, who is enjoying himself flipping through the pages of a popular Leonese magazine.

As I approach Viggo, he raises his eyes and recognizes me. We greet each other.

'Does Alatriste have a gift for being in two places at once? I thought you were in North America,' I tell him.

'I came for a lightning visit, to finalize some details for the soundtrack, and as soon as I had some spare time I came to León to see my friends. How is everybody?'

His face looks weary after his long trip. We talk about the preparations for the release of Alatriste, about his brief stay in Madrid to screen, along with David Cronenberg, A History of Violence, and then we go on to discuss the event that has just left us both slack-jawed.

'She has an amazing voice,' he tells me, referring to Barbara Bonney who was performing a recital worthy of adoration, and whom he had a special fondness for. 'Had you heard her sing before?'

I said yes and for a few moments thought I saw a conspiratorial glint in his gaze.

'Tomorrow I leave, since I have a ton of appointments, as you know, but not before I visit my friends.'

'Will we see each other in León for the premiere of Alatriste, like we agreed in Uclés?' I asked him.

'Sure. León will be one of the cities where the movie will be screened.'

'There won't be any last-minute problems with the producer or the venue?' I insisted.

Without replying, he fixed me with a look as only Alatriste can do when he wants to reaffirm a statement, then, rising, he extended his hand and said, 'See you in September. I'll send you my latest book with pictures of León.'

And that's exactly what happened. He went to Valdeteja, greeted los bravos, chatted with his friend Gabi and returned swiftly to León so he could spend a few hours with his fellow Argentineans, who are bound by a diehard, limitless fervor for their football club, San Lorenzo de Almagro. Then he left. And time went by without my hearing from him, until, on a good day at the end of April, Linger arrived.

I opened it impatiently and saw a beautiful book that wasn't like any other. It was a book made up of feelings, of stolen moments in life, of borrowed memories and approaching future moments that have now become the past. Among numerous photographs of different countries, I suddenly discovered León, though a León that is different from the one that my eyes are accustomed to seeing. It was Viggo Mortensen's León. The one that he had seen or thought he had seen in the urban canvases of a city immersed in the frenzy of day to day life, which gazes obliquely at its glorious past, but is incapable of escaping the weight of the present day that is strangling it.

Verses made of images

It's true that photography, together with film, is one of the artistic manifestations which mostly clearly represents the culture of our century, and both have become fundamental to our collective memory and an important source of our history. And even though the photograph has changed the perception of man's modern world making him more sensitive to social, political and cultural situations, nevertheless Mortensen's photographs try to go beyond the basic significance in beautiful snapshots that are taken on a vacation trip. In Linger, Mortensen reflects upon the silent echo of men's gazes as they confront their solitude, that one that is at its most oppressive when one is surrounded by others.

But Linger couldn't just be another book among the thousands already in library display cases because inside it is comprised of two distinct poets. One who writes passionate, blunt verses and words, the other a master of the fleeting image, the ephemeral instant of the man who is bound by the era he was born into and the years he has left to live, all informing and influencing his surroundings. Each face, each gesture, each sky which is one and the same with the one that first caught his hyper attentive gaze while he searched for peace in the limpid, snowy Curueño mountains of his first visit, or in the tranquil streets of León, each time less populated with the young and more and more with the elderly.

Nothing escapes that restless eye. León is trapped in that incessant search for a moment which never seems to arrive.

That's when the city is most shamelessly open before his eyes and his powerful words serve to incontestably underscore once more that the photograph is at the service of the poet and it was their union which discovered the León which Viggo visited during Holy Week in 2005 and inscribed into verses made of images. The truth is that when I closed the book it was imprinted on my hands. Linger is a far-ranging book of multiple points of view and of profound feeling. A book to meditate upon...

© Estudios Piccaso / Origen Producciones.
The Crows of San Lorenzo

Mornings are cold in León toward the end of February and a fine fog originating in Bernesga enfolds men, buildings and cars and softens their contours, making this a magic hour to pound the pavement. Viggo grabs his camera and throws himself into exploring the alleyways, plazas, parks, large avenues and suburbs of León, a city which still slumbers between the smoke from chimneystacks and the exhaust pipes from cars.

Any excuse is a good reason to observe another person and to study their mannerisms, gestures and gazes. It's the perfect moment to capture on camera. The important thing is to freeze frame that gesture and the attitude which makes it so unique. The rest of the job is done in a darkroom.

Every morning during his last few visits to León, he made his way to The Rincon del Cid, the last Spanish bastion of the San Lorenzo de Almagro crows, to greet his dear Argentinean friends Ana Maria, her husband Gustavo Adolfo and their sons Ezequiel and Gonzalo. From the very first day that he introduced himself spontaneously to them at their bar, they said, 'We thought he was a great guy, a great heart, an excellent person.'

'He really loves the team and he does anything for them,' says Adolfo. 'Did you know that every Sunday he gives away 16 tickets so that people can go see San Lorenzo play? The country's economic situation is very bad and he shows his solidarity with us by offering this great gift. In León there are 10 fans of San Lorenzo, but with him on our team it's like we're 1,000.'

He recently finished filming Alatriste and, as he had promised us, he returned to León to personally thank all those Argentineans who gave him all kinds of presents, among them a fantastic picture of San Lorenzo's fan club. Maybe with this in mind, he showed up at the bar on that rainy night at the end of June.

With his usual discretion, he greeted them and they began to talk about their beloved team's triumphs. We're told that several hours later before leaving he gave them each their own San Lorenzo Football Club t-shirt.

Tell Viggo we're from León!

On a torrid morning in June 2005 Felix Garcia, the secretary of the canine society and trainer of mastiffs tried to get into the film set of Alatriste with his 3 Leonese mastiffs Caimán, Tita and Leal, along with their two sheepdogs Manchi and Gus, to film several scenes that required the animals.

Somebody at the gate didn't recognize them and refused to let them in. Felix insisted that they're supposed to be on the set but have been inadvertently left off the list. Then Rafael Casado, canine specialist, moved so he was standing in front of the astonished guard and very seriously informed him, 'Go find Viggo and tell him we're from León.'

The guard disappeared and after a few minutes of waiting, from behind the trailers, wearing the hat and carrying a sword at his belt, Alatriste appeared. He approached Felix and Rafa and greeted them with a smile.

'We're from León and we're supposed to be on the set,' Felix said, slightly embarrassed, 'But they won't let us in.'

Viggo invited them to follow him, while he stroked one of the sheepdogs. Once inside, Alatriste asked them what part of León they're from and was interested in the enormous mastiffs. Rafa and Felix explained the origin of this dog breed native to León and they told him a little about the problems that exist in trying to get papers for this breed which receives very little aid and even less recognition from institutions.

Viggo listened attentively and when they had finished explaining the character traits of these loyal, powerful animals, he asked them, 'Are you from Curueño?'

'We're from nearby,' said Felix.

Viggo smiled.

They gathered around the actor with one of the sheepdogs in front and they took a picture, all under the annoyed gaze of the assistant director who didn't understand what was going on. Paco Femenia, the director of photography, and Nacho Pérez, the boy who plays young Inigo de Balboa, joined the group. Viggo left to change his clothes and returned wearing a black Leonese t-shirt and cowboy pants.

He took Tita, a trained female mastiff, and stood in front of his trailer where the Leonese flag was hanging. Beside him, Felix posed with Leal, the golden male. Rafael Casado, the canine specialist, joined them and they took another photograph with the enormous mastiffs.

'He was happy,' said Felix. 'I showed him a book that I am putting together of all the information that is known about Leonese mastiffs, and he signed it for me. He only wrote, 'Good Luck.' I gave him a hat from the canine society, he said goodbye and left. Shortly after I saw him leaving the trailer wearing the hat and heading for a car that was waiting for him. He waved goodbye to us and disappeared into the car. I'd like to say hi to him on Friday and bring the dogs with me,' concludes Felix.

Dog actors

It's common for period movies to use trained dogs and it's not the first time that Felix and Rafael have worked with their dogs on movie sets, like the recently wrapped Goya or in this case Alatriste. Their dogs are well-known and their trainers feel proud that some of their canines appear in famous movies like those directed by Yanes.

'They've filmed various shots of them, alone and in pairs,' says the trainer, 'But the majority of the shots don't appear in the final montage. Nevertheless there is one scene where Alatriste and Quevedo can be seen walking down a street and a car passes beside them with a beggar knocked down by Caimán, the mastiff, and in the back you can see Manchi, the female. I've been told that scene will be kept. But I won't know until Friday,' he adds. 'Either way, it's satisfying to be in many of these films and to teach people something about this native breed of dogs which isn't known very well anywhere else,' he concludes.

Whatever the end result, the actors loved to pet them and pose with them and work with them, because they have an incredibly sweet and gentle temper that is usually hidden by their ferocious appearance and imposing size.
Last edited: 29 January 2007 09:39:43
© Diario de León. Used by permission.